Hunting the Northern Lights in Iceland

18. October 2013 —
The Northern Lights dancing in the sky

If you plan to come to Iceland in winter, here is a short guide we put together to follow the dancing lights. Along with location advice, forecast sites and other resources, this will help you keep track of things and to increase your chances of finding the Northern Lights in Iceland.

When and How to Find the Northern Lights

You are more or less a hostage to fortune. There are a few factors and you can control none of them.

  • The first factor is darkness. Without adequate darkness, it is impossible to see the Northern Lights. It doesn’t need to be pitch black, but if you are here in Iceland in summer (i.e. May, June and July and August), you are in for a disappointment.
  • The second factor is the weather: without a clear sky, it becomes a lot harder to see them. Some people say that the sky needs to be cloudless, but the truth is that the sky can even be partially cloudy and they can still be seen. They make an amazing sight from behind the clouds. The Icelandic meteorological office has a nice overlay map showing the cloud cover and the probability of clear skies. This will be one of your most useful tools in keeping a track of the Northern Lights. However, even here, one must be careful. Another fantastic resource is the NASA-operated NOAA satellites showing the live state of the aurora in real time. You can change your location in relation to the weather, so if one region of the country is cloudy and another is cloudless, you can to get there and hope for the best.

As with all forecasts, it's not entirely accurate. If followed too rigorously, you may end up missing a display.

Icelandic Mountain Guides

Where can we see the Northern Lights?

The Northern Lights can be seen anywhere in Iceland. From the Keflavík International Airport to downtown Reykjavík. A really great spot is on the top of a glacier. The ice serves as a reflective surface which enhances the overall experience, giving a glow all around from the ice reflections.

Any area without light pollution will be a good spot and one can name many places far from any cities in Iceland. Just a ten-minute drive outside of Reykjavik will leave you to an area of low light pollution for aurora viewing. Þingvellir (Thingvellir) National Park is a good area for instance, the absence of villages and the low silhouette of the nearby mountains makes Þingvellir a good spot for Northern Lights hunting, not just for the low light pollution but also for the combination of stunning landscape features for a fantastic overall scene.

Closer to Reykjavík (Reykjavik), if you have a car, you can drive 15 minutes out to the Presidents residence, in a town called Álftanes (Alftanes). Here you can watch the Northern Lights from across a bay, as they dance above the city scape of Reykjavík while reflecting in the sea.

You are more or less a hostage to fortune: there are a few factors and you can control none of them.

Icelandic Mountain Guides

If you´re car-less and staying in Reykjavik, simply take a short walk to the Sun Voyager (Sólfar in Icelandic) statue a few hundred metres from Harpa, or if you want less city lights, make the 60 minute coastal walk to Seltjarnarnes where an uninhabited, dark, narrow peninsula stretches out into the sea and provides the perfect serenity, as well as a beautiful white lighthouse for the perfect foreground to any pictures. There is also a small foot bath you can dip your cold toes into. The lighthouse also has its counterpart over in Akranes on the other side of the bay, a 1 hour drive from Reykjavík.

At about the same distance, you could sit on a rocking dock somewhere in an old harbour in Borgarnes, you can drive your car out here and sit and wait inside while little fishing boats float beside you: a good trick if it’s cold or storming outside.

Further afield, one of the most magical places to take in a Northern Light show is on a black sand beach like the south coast near Vík, with lapping waves creating the perfect background music. The glacier lagoon also scores high on the list as one of the top location to view them, with the reflection interspersed with giant ice monuments of different shapes and sizes.

Tell us all about it!

If you want to see the Northern Lights but don´t want to do the hunting yourself, you can also check out our Northern Lights tour options. If you have already seen the Northern Lights, please tell us about your experience, we would love to hear from you.

Check out the video for some more inspiration for tours and activities while you are in Iceland.

About the Author

IMG Staff Writer

An anonymous but well informed member of our team that enjoys sharing their knowledge of Iceland & Greenland’s stunning nature.

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